May 1, 2015 — An Alabama House committee on Wednesday heard testimony on three measures that would restrict access to abortion in the state, the Alabama News Network reports.
The committee plans to vote on the measures next week (Alabama News Network, 4/29).
One bill (HB 527), filed by state Rep. Ed Henry (R), would prohibit the state Department of Public Health from issuing or renewing health center licenses to abortion or reproductive health clinics located within 2,000 feet of a public school's campus or property. The measure would force most of the state's clinics to close, including the Huntsville Women's Clinic, which is the sole abortion facility in Northern Alabama (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/24).
The state House Health Committee also heard testimony on HB 405, which could prohibit abortion as early as six weeks' gestation (Perallon, AP/WHNT News, 4/29). Specifically, the bill would require physicians to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion and make it illegal to perform an abortion if a heartbeat can be detected. Currently, the state permits abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The state House passed a similar ban last year, but it did not advance in the state Senate (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/6).
According to Montgomery Advertiser, the panel also heard testimony on a bill (HB 491) that would allow most health care providers to refuse to perform medical services to which they have personal objections (Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser, 4/29).
During the hearing, Jayme Calhoun, a spokesperson for Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, said previous restrictions (HB 57) enacted in the state already had forced the Huntsville Women's Clinic to move from its original location to its current location. "Now that we've found a clinic that suits all of our needs, they're using their next excuse to try to shut us down," she said (AP/WHNT News, 4/29).
Meanwhile, supporters of the zoning bill said it was designed to ensure children's safety around schools (Montgomery Advertiser, 4/29).
Calhoun noted, "We make a very strong point not to protest here. We simply escort women in and out and keep them free from harassment on our property." She added that "[i]t would make a lot more sense for (the protesters) to stop (protesting) ... than make a legitimate business close" (AP/WHNT News, 4/29).
Separately, Eric Johnston, of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said the fetal heartbeat bill aimed "to limit the number of abortions" in the state (Montgomery Advertiser, 4/29).
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said the measure "would ban abortions from essentially six weeks on." She said, "As I've said before abortions are [a] constitutionally protected right for women," adding that similar measures "ha[ve] already been rendered unconstitutional in other states" (Alabama News Network, 4/29).